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CNN Reality Check: The Confusion Over "Collusion"; New Book Examines Russian Interference In 2016 Election; What Will Ohio's Special Election Tell Us About November? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 7, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SENTINEL NEWSPAPERS: -- delaying tactic to keep him from sitting.

I can't imagine that any attorney would recommend for the president to sit down with Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller will eat his lunch. He will call him on every factual error, every lie that he's told.

Who would want to sit down in front of Bob Mueller and have to face what he's going to have to face? I can't imagine it.

At the other end of it though, I can imagine that the president, at some point in time, would say hey, I'll carry the day -- sit me down in front of him. I've seen defendants do that numerous times.

So he may well tell his attorneys that he wants to sit down but I can't imagine that any attorney -- any attorney of his attorneys would recommend that he do that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Brian Karem, Margaret Talev, great to have you with us this morning. Thank you very much.

So, it's a word we've been hearing for like what, two years now?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and I don't know why we keep using it, frankly.

BERMAN: We shouldn't, we shouldn't.

CAMEROTA: We should stop but you're about to use it right now. I want to hear it.

BERMAN: I'm going to say it now for the very last time.

CAMEROTA: One last time?

BERMAN: The very last time. You want to say it together?

CAMEROTA: Yes -- collusion.

BERMAN: Collusion. So what is it and is it totally legal? We're going to get a CNN reality check.

CAMEROTA: Plus, former -- well, not even former Trump voters, just Trump voters. We have a panel of Trump voters and how they are feeling today, and it gets quite feisty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to apologize to the nation for my vote for him. It was the wrong thing to do. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. Like I said, he is a racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take great offense to the fact that you felt the need to apologize on behalf of the entire nation.


CAMEROTA: All right. We're going to get the pulse of the people. How are Trump voters feeling 18 months in? That's coming up.


[07:35:37] CAMEROTA: OK, time now for a CNN reality check.

First, there was no collusion, then there was. Collusion is not a crime so it doesn't matter anyway. But, by the way, there was no collusion.

So there's a lot of collusion confusion this morning.

BERMAN: We need a reality infusion.

CAMEROTA: I'm getting a collusion contusion from slapping my forehead.

John Avlon, hi. You have a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right and we're going to try to clear up those contusions and the confusion.

OK, so 'there was no collusion' has become President Trump's rallying cry. He repeats it in tweets and speeches, and even handwritten notes to himself on statements designed to clean up the latest Russia- related mess.

It is an odd phrase to find at the center of our domestic debates and you'd be forgiven for having some collusion confusion. So let's try to clear things up.

Here's the dictionary definition of the word. Collusion, noun -- secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.

Now let's see if the president's latest tweet about the Trump Tower meeting seems to fit that description.

So, quote, "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics and it went nowhere. I did not know about it."

Well, it certainly seems to describe a secret meeting which the Trump team tried to hide for two years. It was done on the pretext of cooperation with a foreign power -- Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But was it, in Trump's terms, totally legal? Well, that's the key question.

Now, we know that foreign donations and foreign influence in our elections is illegal. Here's the criminal code.

"It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation in connection with a federal, state or local election." And the statute goes on.

Well, it was certainly frowned upon by the founding fathers, also. George Washington wrote, quote, "Free people ought to be constantly awake since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican government."

But, President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been musing aloud that collusion might not be illegal after all. Here's what he said.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Which I don't even know if that's a crime -- colluding about Russians.


AVLON: Rudy's right on this one. Collusion is not a specific chargeable offense as set out in the criminal code but elements of its definition certainly are.

For example, the special counsel could charge members of the Trump campaign with a conspiracy to defraud the United States by coordinating with Russia or conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or election fraud, or money laundering, or any effort to clean those up, which could be obstruction of justice.

So while collusion may not be a crime, conspiracy is, and you can't linguistically spin your way out of that one. So I hope that clears up any collusion confusion or contusions you might have.

And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: I like the illusion.

BERMAN: Look, it's so important because the word gets tossed around and it doesn't mean, as they say in "The Princess Bride," what people think it means, John, roughly.

And I think perhaps you're right Alisyn that there needs to be a different term as we go forward.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Should we just strike it from our vocabulary? John, should we just strike it from our vocabulary?

AVLON: You know, we could say conspiracy instead. It's such a -- I think one of the reasons we haven't gravitated to that word, which has a legal term of art, is that word is associated with the word theory -- conspiracy theory.

That sounds hyperventilating but there's actually a legal definition for conspiracy that may be what the prosecutors focus on rather than this word collusion.

CAMEROTA: Got it. All right, we're going to work on that, what we should say instead.

AVLON: There you go.

CAMEROTA: All right.

Meanwhile, President Trump is on a working vacation but late-night comedians did not take the night off. Here are your late-night laughs.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": President Trump is on vacation right now and you'll never believe where he went for vacation -- to his golf course. That's right, he golfs. Did you know that?

The president is on the front end of what will be an 11-day working vacation at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. This way he gets to rage-tweet from an entirely different toilet.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The president is on vacation and I know people are like oh, shouldn't he be working? No.

While he's on vacay, Trump staff has largely given up on futile efforts to supervise him. Yes, at this point they're just leaving him alone with one of those cat water fountains you see in the airplane magazine and it's got a lever to give him a cheeseburger pellet.

[07:40:05] JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": Now, you could tell Trump was excited to get away. Check out what he was saying before he left -- watch this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vacation, all I've ever wanted. Vacation, have to get away. Vacation meant to be spent alone.


CAMEROTA: OK. Any morning that starts with the "Go-Go's" is a good morning.

BERMAN: You know, it -- a "Go-Go" morning is fantastic. I will note that perhaps "Our Lips Are Sealed." Maybe another song, at some point, we will hear in regards to the president and his legal team. CAMEROTA: That's good.

BERMAN: You want to go there?

CAMEROTA: Yes, let's do that. We put that challenge to Jimmy Kimmel to do "Our Lips Are Sealed" then move on to "Lust Love" -- yes.

All right.

Meanwhile, a new book promises new information about Russia's election interference. What haven't we heard yet? Well, we're going to talk to the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter behind this.


CAMEROTA: Every day seems to bring a new thread in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but what have we not heard yet?

Joining us now is Greg Miller. He's the national security correspondent for "The Washington Post" and the author of a new book that will come out October second called "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia And the Subversion of American Democracy."

Greg, thanks for being here.


CAMEROTA: Listen, Greg, I think that I can't blame people and our viewers and all Americans for feeling like they can't keep up with every sort of new thread that comes out every day. You know, we're tasked with reporting that but it's -- people miss some things.

[07:45:15] So your book sounds like it's going to be a compendium of all of your investigation into this from talking to lots of sources close to the primary players. So what will we learn that's new?

MILLER: Well actually, Alisyn, what you were just talking about is important. And just doing the spadework and groundwork for this book there were so many moments that sort of leapt out at me when you go over the time line.

We were covering all of this in real time -- the election, the early indications of Russian interference, the concerns of the intelligence agencies. And putting it all together you just see connections that you missed as we were living through this.

So the book goes a long way toward that but it also builds out a great deal of new material that takes us inside Trump's legal team in recent months, takes us inside the Mueller investigation, inside the FBI, inside the CIA during the election, and of course, inside the White House.

CAMEROTA: And from where you sit, I mean -- again, you're a Pulitzer Prize-winner. From where you sit, in terms of all of the interviews you've done and the investigation you've done, did the Trump campaign do anything legally wrong?

MILLER: Yes, that's a delicate territory for me as a reporter to tread, especially one without a law degree.

I mean, I definitely think that the more we learn about the interactions at Trump Tower and, in fact, the more we learn about the connections throughout the campaign that there were very troubling legal developments there. And, of course, we've already seen a number of guilty pleas related to this as much as the Trump administration tries to deny this.

I mean, Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russia.

CAMEROTA: Look, I can only imagine how hard it was for you in writing a book when each new thread popped up because every day there seems to be some sort of new revelation and you must have to update the book or somehow try to include it in there.

So, here's another example of that. Don, Jr., as you know -- who's connected to this meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians -- went on Laura Ingraham's radio show and tried to explain himself and what he thought that meeting was about.

So here is a clip of him talking about that meeting.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In the 20-minute meeting it ended up being, you know, about essentially nothing that was relevant to any of these things. And, you know, that's all it is and that's all that they've got.

You know, that's not the premise that got them in the room and then they started -- it was essentially, you know, a bait and switch to talk about that and everyone has basically said that in testimony already. I mean, so this is -- this is nothing new.


CAMEROTA: Greg, what do you think of Don, Jr. admitting that he fell for a bait and switch from the Russians?

MILLER: The most interesting part about that is the bait itself, right, and they accepted that bait without any question.

There was no apparent impulse among any of the participants in that room to report that outreach offering interference from the Russian government, offering damaging information on their opponent from the Russian government nor months and months later did they report that. And then when it finally came to light they went out of their way to try to obscure what that meeting had actually been about.

CAMEROTA: I know that in your reporting you spoke to people close to Vladimir Putin and you dug in, I think, on what we've heard which was that Vladimir Putin -- and we heard this from him that he wanted Donald Trump to win.

But tell us what you learned about why he had so much animosity towards Hillary Clinton and wanted to scuttle her chances.

MILLER: You know, Putin is a -- is a former KGB operative himself. He sees the world in terms of threats to Russia, threats to himself. He's borderline paranoid about it.

One of the details that I heard from somebody who is very close to the Kremlin was that he actually spent a great deal of time after the chaos in Libya watching Gaddafi's sort of death scene which was captured on video, and worried that this was a fate that could befall him.

He actually was very worried about these uprisings that happened in Ukraine -- protests that we saw in 2012 and 2013 in Moscow -- and really blamed the United States for fomenting this opposition to him, believing that the United States was behind it.

And he really personalized that against Hillary Clinton. Really came to believe that she was the instigator. That she was secretly or openly signaling protesters.

CAMEROTA: Do you have any sense of what Russia will do differently or is planning for the midterms in 2018?

MILLER: Well, we've already seen that they are -- that they are continuing to interfere largely by trying to amplify divisions on -- existing divisions in American society, which is what they did in 2016.

[07:50:12] What's changed the most, I think, is that they've gotten much better about hiding their tracks.

You saw Facebook acknowledge recently that it had to shut down a bunch of pages and accounts and it had a harder time tracing those back to Russia, although most experts believe that that is exactly where those pages came from.

CAMEROTA: Greg Miller. The book, again, is called "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy." Thanks so much for giving us a preview.

MILLER: Thank you.


BERMAN: Great discussion there.

So, some voters in Ohio set to vote in a special election. What District 12 may tell us about the midterms. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:55:03] BERMAN: It is Election Day in America, at least part of it. Polls are now open in Ohio's 12th Congressional District. This is a special House election that has Democrats hoping to steal a seat in a longtime Republican stronghold.

Could this be a sign of things to come in November?

Let's go live to Westerville, Ohio. Ryan Nobles is there -- Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning, and the polls, as you mentioned, open here in Ohio's 12 District.

We've seen a steady stream of voters here in Westerville, which is one of the key towns in this key district in a race that's really being watched all over the country because this district is like so many across America -- a district that's been traditionally Republican but one the Democrats believe they can steal in the November midterms.

And in many ways, this has become a test run for the power and the limits of President Donald Trump's political influence.


NOBLES (voice-over): In Ohio's 12th District, a unique special election has the potential to set the stage for the pivotal fall midterms.



NOBLES: Republicans are desperately hoping to hold on to the seat they've held for more than three decades. But in 2018, this special election is competitive.

Upstart Democrat Danny O'Connor has drawn the race against Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson into a statistical tie. With what appears to be an even playing field, Republicans and Democrats are now gambling with the biggest elephant in American politics, President Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you, Ohio. I love Ohio.

NOBLES: Balderson is not your typical Trump-style politician. A workmanlike state legislator, his career has not been marked by rushing to seek the spotlight. But after the president came to Ohio this weekend the glare is unavoidable.

TRUMP: We're going to have a tremendous victory for Troy -- Troy Balderson.

NOBLES: While the district voted for Trump by 11 points in 2016, Gov. John Kasich, who once held this seat, argues that Trump's influence could backfire.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Suburban women, in particular here, are the ones that are really turned off. When you add to that the millennials, you have it very close. It's really kind of shocking because this should be just a slam dunk and it's not.

NOBLES: The candidate himself disagrees.

BALDERSON: It's just that it's brought so much enthusiasm out. To have both the vice president of the United States and the president of the United States here within six days of each other, it's just huge.

NOBLES: The Democrat, O'Connor, is also careful on the topic of Trump. He believes voters care more about issues like health care, student debt, and the economy.

O'CONNOR: We're crisscrossing this district talking to voters about kitchen table issues like paying your mortgage, like having access to a safe and secure retirement, like making sure that we're investing in an economy that works for everyone.

NOBLES: He claims voters seldom ask about the president.

NOBLES (on camera): It's only that extends to like the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller. You don't hear that over and over again?

O'CONNOR: No, it barely ever comes up -- very rarely.

NOBLES (voice-over): And while Balderson is sticking close to Trump's side he, too, believes the voters of Central Ohio are not focused on the same things people in Washington are.

BALDERSON: This is what matters. This is the 12th Congressional District that matters. So -- and that's who I'm running for.

NOBLES: No matter what, Tuesday's vote is nothing more than a trial run. Both candidates will be back on the ballot in November, but the results from this special election could resonate far beyond Ohio.


NOBLES: And there is no doubt that President Trump is all in on this race today, including visiting over the weekend.

He is tweeting about it this morning saying, quote, "Ohio, vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress.

His opponent, controlled by Nancy Pelosi, is weak on crime, the border, military vets or Second Amendment and will end your tax cuts.

Troy will be a great Congressman."

And this issue of Nancy Pelosi is something that the Republicans have tried to attach to Danny O'Connor in a big way. He's repeatedly said that he will not vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker but hedged a bit in an interview with NBC.

I asked him about Nancy Pelosi yesterday John, and he said emphatically that he supports new leadership in Washington and that includes both Republicans and Democrats -- John.

BERMAN: Ryan Nobles for us in Westerville, Ohio.

Stay with CNN all day long for coverage of this race. And tonight, be sure to watch for the complete election results from Ohio and elsewhere around the country. That starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern.

In the meantime, we have a lot of news, so let's get to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Gates saying he committed crimes at Paul Manafort's direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really is testifying for his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is always very damaging to the defendant when a cooperator takes the stand and says I committed crimes, so did that man, and here's how we did it together.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That's not the premise that got them in the room. It was, essentially, a bait and switch to talk about that.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In the case of tweeting about Trump Tower, I am told that he was urged to cut it out -- to stop it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is hurting himself and his son at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been a challenging and deadly fire season.